​​​When Alina and Mal rise the next morning, the plateau they slept in is covered in snow. Mal worries that their tracks through fresh snow might get them discovered, but they have no way of covering their trail. They head back to the forest and spend the rest of the day searching for the stag. When they stop for the night, Mal apologizes for what he said the night they met again at the Little Palace. Mal asks Alina if she missed him when she left. She tells him she had missed him every day, and Mal confesses his feelings for her. He apologizes that it took him so long to realize what she meant to him, saying that he was only truly confronted with those feelings once she was no longer around. He tells her that they belong together and kisses her. Alina realizes that she would have waited for Mal forever.  

As they pull back from their first kiss, Alina looks up to see Morozova’s herd moving through the trees nearby. Moving quietly, Mal retrieves his bow so that he can wound the stag so Alina can kill it. Alina senses something and tells Mal to wait. She approaches the stag slowly and it doesn’t even flinch when she reaches out to touch it. She’s in awe of the creature in front of her and she tells Mal that they’ll have to find another way to defeat the Darkling when he urges her to kill the stag.  

Suddenly, an arrow sinks into the stag’s chest. Alina realizes that they’ve been ambushed and she staggers back from the animal as it falls wounded to the ground. The clearing is quickly overrun by the Darkling’s men, and Mal moves to protect Alina. The Darkling himself emerges from the dark woods and tells Alina that she should have listened to Mal and killed it while she had the chance. In a futile attempt to save her, Mal tries to shoot the stag before the Darkling can kill it, but his arrow is stopped by a Squaller. Alina throws herself in front of the stag in an effort to save it from the Darkling. The two fight, but Alina can’t keep him at bay. She begs Mal to kill her while he has the chance, but he’s unable to comply with her wish. Under threat of the Darkling’s men hurting Mal, the Darkling kills the wounded stag.  

Once the stag is dead, one of the oprichniki removes a portion of the animal’s antlers and passes them to a Fabrikator in the group. To her horror, Alina recognizes the man as David, Genya’s lover. David fastens the antlers around Alina’s neck, using his powers to ensure that they cannot be removed. When he does, Alina can feel an order coming from the Darkling resonate inside of her. She’s unable to resist him calling forth her light as though it was his own power. Alina realizes she’s no longer in control of her own power at all. The Darkling’s men burn the body of Morozova’s stag and put Mal in chains.  


The stag appearing to Alina and Mal in the glade gives credence to the Darkling’s statement that the stag’s antlers were fated for Alina. While destiny is not a large part of the narrative, it does crop up in some places like in the fact that the Darkling is so ardent in his belief that the stag’s antlers are meant for Alina. It is easy to read this as the Darkling justifying his search for the stag and not a true indication of Alina’s fate because the Darkling’s desire to control her is so profound that he believes it is his destiny to do so. That the stag meanders into the glade just after Alina and Mal kiss suggests that there may be a larger force at play in her coming to possess the antlers. Whether this is fate, destiny, or the will of the stag itself is unclear, but it hints that the longer arc of Alina’s story may have more to it than the Darkling’s will. 

When Alina spares the stag’s life, she sets herself up to be the Darkling’s true foil. By showing the stag mercy and not being tempted by the power the stag represents, Alina positions herself as the Darkling’s opposite in the narrative, thereby illustrating the core problems of his character: his greed and his ruthlessness. While the Darkling has been pitted against Alina as the antagonist of the story for several chapters, her choice to spare the stag’s life after having spent weeks hunting it is what makes her into his narrative opposite. She is not driven by the same greed for power as the Darkling, but by a mercy that he cannot understand. Her decision to let the stag live puts her safety and freedom at risk, yet she is determined to find another way to defeat the Darkling. By making this choice, she unknowingly makes herself into the person who can challenge him on a the most fundamental level and, ultimately, free herself from his control.  

The Darkling takes complete control over Alina in Chapter 19, which sets his plan into motion and displays his true lust for power. The most obvious aspect of his control over Alina is the fact that he has her fitted with the collar of antlers, which allows him to use her power as if it were his own, but it isn’t the only way that he deprives her of her free will in that moment. The Darkling also seizes bodily control of her by having her physically restrained by two of his guards and gains control of her actions by threatening to hurt Mal if she does anything to go against him. The issues of control and power have been central to the book, especially where they concern Alina’s ability to maintain control over herself. That the Darkling usurps her power is a violation of the highest order to Alina, but even that isn’t good enough for him. All of this is in service of his plan, which would be impossible without having Alina under his control in every way.